Tag Archives: vacation

Note to self

Next time, permit more time for wine tasting. Two port caves per day is really my limit, but there are so many, and I won‚Äôt have time to try them all. ūüėć

Also: this fascinated me. Up close, it‚Äôs a bunch of mangled car parts stuck on the corner of a building for no apparent reason. A few yards away, it is clearly an Art Installation…maybe one with a message I don‚Äôt really get. But still, it‚Äôs ingenious.

And then there is this installation across from a hipster-y coffee place. Those are car tires sticking out of or affixed to the building.

(Where I had a pastry and a latte. Yum.)

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Filed under food, travel

Barcelona: a city I’m going to want to visit again

The longer I go without writing up a travel narrative of some sort, the less likely it is that anything will be written at all. ¬†I’ve got all kinds of notes in my travel moleskine, but they don’t count really.

While I had a general idea of things that I wanted to see in Barcelona, I had no itinerary or set plans. ¬†Generally, on non-beach vacations in which I go to a destination, I do research in advance and compile a list of things to see/do, and then let circumstances dictate the order in which I see them (or not). ¬†In this case, circumstances (also known as the perfidy of PHL and USAirways) dictated that I lost a day due to flight delays and missed connections, and also that my luggage arrive forty eight hours after I did. ¬†My tentative plan to take a day trip to Figueres, Sitges, or Montserrat was lost with that extra day. ¬†Oh, well, that just means I’ll have to go back, right? ūüôā ¬†I did get to tick off most of the big ticket items on my list though: ¬†the Picasso Museum, the Sagrada Familia, the Olympic stadium, various works by Antoni Gaud√≠.

Baltimore to Philadelphia to Heathrow to Madrid. ¬†The Iberia Airlines fellow who had to deal with those of us whose luggage was left in Philadelphia by USAirways (!!!) was very patient with both the problem and with my Spanish. ¬†Took the Vueling shuttle on to Barcelona. ¬†Both Iberia and Vueling fly out of the new Terminal 4 at Barajas; it is quite lovely architecture/design, but a long haul from the other terminals. ¬†Landed in Barcelona and took the bus downtown to the Pla√ßa de Catalunya and then walked to the hotel. ¬† It was after 10pm and I’d been awake for more than 24 hours at that point, so I was out like a light.
¬†Sunday: ¬†My tentative plan was to find breakfast, and then check out the Museu de Cal√ßat (Shoe Museum) and Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum). ¬† Walking down Passeig de Sant Joan toward the Arc de Triomf, stopped in at Forn Oriol and had a lovely croissant and cafe con leche. ¬†(Drinking coffee is something I only do while traveling; I couldn’t say why exactly.) ¬†Anyway, I passed the Chocolate Museum and decided to scope out the Shoe Museum first and save the Chocolate for the afternoon. ¬†Walking toward the museum, which is located near the cathedral, I ran into a parade of sorts: ¬†groups of school children and parents marching along, playing musical instruments, accompanied by figures. ¬†They aren’t floats but are structures that a person carries, and they are known as Gigantes. ¬†The streets in that area are pretty narrow, at least in terms of accommodating regular pedestrian traffic as well as a parade. ¬†After some delay and a wrong turn, I found the Shoe Museum…and it was closed for renovations. ¬†Wound up making my way back to the cathedral square and into the cathedral, which was emptying after the end of morning services. ¬†Beautiful internal flying buttresses. ¬†The crypt of Barcelona’s patron saint, Santa Eulalia, is below the altar, but there was a very long line. ¬†Rather than join the queue, I admired the stonework and stained glass, and then made my way back outside.

In the plaza in front of the cathedral a stage had been set up and many, many people were gathered to watch. ¬†Different groups of school children in costume performed dances and played music. ¬†Next to the stage, several rows of tents had been erected, and various artisans were selling jewelry, candy, ceramics, leather goods, and handmade children’s clothing of natural cotton and wool. ¬†I watched a glass jewelry artist demonstrate his craft, and admired the gorgeous ceramics of Pau Costa.

The Museu d’Hist√≤ria de la Ciutat (City History Museum) was nearby; it wasn’t on my list but the sign caught my eye. ¬†Am glad I entered — this museum is all about the city’s history as a Roman outpost in Spain. ¬†Instead of going up, entrants go down to the excavation below the building, where mosaics, chambers, ancient walls and roads can been seen. ¬†I particularly loved the wine-making section, with its various vats, and one area in which the pattern of stonework looks like parquet flooring.

Roman wine-making facilities

Then the Museu de Frederic Mares. ¬†I don’t really know what to think of Mr. Mares, except that today he would be considered a hoarder. ¬†His collection includes loads of pipes, glasses, cigarette cases, keys, ironwork, sculpture, theater programs, playing cards, menus, cigar bands, fans, etc. ¬†The ground floor is devoted entirely to sculpture; the collection of crucifixion sculptures is a little morbid; the rooms are lit by motion-sensitive fixtures, and I found it quite creepy to be suddenly plunged into darkness among the JCs who had been separated from their crosses. ¬†Going up, you can see a variety of collections, as well as a study with a sizeable book collection and more scultpure, this time more modern.

Barcelona's beach

Monday: ¬†One of my colleagues is planning on taking a Mediterranean cruise leaving from Barcelona next year, and asked me to scope out the W Hotel for her. ¬†After breakfast at Forn Oriol again, I walked through the Arc de Triomf and ¬†the Parc de la Ciutadella and along the edge of the La Barceloneta neighborhood, admiring the marina, until I hit the beach and could see the W in the distance. ¬†Lots of seafood restaurants — poor planning on my part, none of them were open to try ūüė¶ ¬†Then the long walk to the Museu Maritim, which is under renovation right now, but even the partial visit was good if you are interested in Barcelona’s history as a sea port and also the history of the shipping/sailing business. ¬†Then up Las Ramblas: kind of tacky and over-touristy. ¬†Worth walking up once only , unless you are interested in visiting the opera or the Boqueria. ¬†The Boqueria was a madhouse, full of tourists and of regular people shopping for food. ¬†The butcher stalls had beautiful cuts of meat, many that are not found in the average grocery store in my area: ¬†tripe, pigs heads and feet, kidneys, etc. ¬†The fruit and vegetable stalls almost all sold small cups of freshly squeezed juice, and I enjoyed ¬†the mango with orange. ¬†Right at the entrance, one sausage/ham vendor sold pintxos — meat lollipops of different types of ham and sausage. ¬†Yum.

Sausage and ham stall at the Boqueria.

Fruit and nut stall in the Boqueria

Walking up¬†Avinguda del Portal de l‚Äô√Ängel, several jewelry and craft stalls were set up, including the glass jewelry maker who’d demonstrated his craft on Sunday.

View of the city from the top of the Castell de Montjuic

Tuesday: Took the bus up to Montju√Įc in the morning and spent the entire day there. ¬†The bus doesn’t go all the way to the top, where you can find the Castell de¬†Montju√Įc, but you can walk up. ¬†It’s good work for your quads and your lungs…or it was for me. ¬†If you have any sense (unlike me), you’ll take the funicular up from the metro station. ¬†The view of the port and the rest of the city is gorgeous, and the fortifications have nice grounds and a small display on the history of the Spanish Air Force. ¬†Taking the funicular down, it’s a short walk to the Fundaci√≥ Joan Mir√≥ and then further on to the Olympic Stadium and a small sports museum. ¬†Along the way, you cross a small walk of fame where the footprints of Lance Armstrong, Alberto Tomba, Pau Gasol and Rafael Nadal can be seen.

The Museu Nactional d’Arte de Catalunya is nearby, and is worth a visit for the view of the city from the front steps and for its collection of romanesque art harvested from small Catalan churches early in the 20th century before the works could be dismantled and placed in private collections. ¬†I enjoyed the romanesque art but enjoyed the glasswork, painting and sculpture of the upper floor more, especially the metal sculpture of a dancer and of Don Quijote by Julio Gonzalez (I think) and the stained glass of Joaquim Mir. ¬†There’s a temporary exhibit on history of coinage in Catalunya that’s quite interesting, and also a display of the engravings of Mari√† Fortuny

This doesn't look like chocolate, does it? A model of the sculpture from the Parc G√ľell.

Wednesday: ¬†At last, I made it to the Chocolate Museum! ¬†It’s relatively small, but takes a couple of hours to get through because of the number of displays and several short videos covering the history of chocolate, its social and political effects on Barcelona and Spain, and its manufacture. ¬†Sprinkled in among the more standard museum-like displays are some amazing chocolate sculptures with a wide variety of subjects ranging from Barcelona itself, to the Sagrada Familia, movies, Don Quijote, a bullfighting scene, cartoons, and religious figures. ¬†There’s an amazing Pieta in chocolate even! ¬†I liked the model of the dragon of Parc G√ľell.

The Picasso Museum is worth visiting if you are a Picasso fan, I think.  I can appreciate his later work but actually like his earlier work more, especially the two portraits of women in mantillas.  It interests me, though, that he did his own iteration of Las meninas.

There’s a textile museum and a precolombian art museum in the same neighborhood, which I meant to visit but never made it back to. ¬†Also in this neighborhood is the Church of Santa Maria of the Sea, a smaller church with lovely gothic interior. ¬†It looks dark and dour from the outside but is surprisingly light inside. ¬†The ceiling is still marked from a fire early in the 20th century.

Stained glass panel in Casa Amatller


Thursday: ¬†Thursday was the day for Modernisme. ¬†First to the Block of Discordon the Passeig de Gr√†cia. ¬† I find the exterior of Casa Batll√≥ to be somewhat disturbing – all the balconies look like masks to me, like faces looking out from the building. ¬†Loved the stained glass wall of Casa Amatller. ¬†Then on to the Sagrada Familia, which is huge and awesome (in the dictionary sense of the word). ¬†The nativity facade is so incredibly ornate and busy, and it contrasts amazingly with the passion facade…which makes sense since they were executed by different people. ¬†The stained glass is gorgeous, as are the corkscrew stair cases, and medallions on the ceiling, and the columns that fly up toward the roof like young trees.

Stained glass at the Sagrada Familia

After admiring the church and going through the display in the basement, I headed up Avinguda Gaud√≠ toward the bus stop to get up to Parc G√ľell, being too lazy to hike that far. ¬†Stopped for lunch at a cafe. ¬†Had the fish of the day. ¬†The waiter warned me that it was boquerones, a word I recognized as one I should know but could not define. ¬†Sardines. ¬†They were quite good — breaded and fried so they tasted crunchy and salty — and reminded me that I should keep an open mind about things and not just assume I won’t like them. ¬†Because if I had remembered that boquerones¬†meant sardines, I’d’ve gotten the pasta instead and missed out on a tasty meal.

The bus to the park included some scenic views. ¬†I was very impressed by the driver’s skill at maneuvering the vehicle up and down narrow, one-way streets that were cramped with parked cars. ¬†You are dropped off near the top of the park and can walk up or down. ¬†I did both, and very much admired all the tile work on the benches, and the ginger-bread-like appearance on the buildings at the base of the park.

The real dragon sculpture of the park.

Friday: ¬†Had to walk by the Mercat de Santa Caterina, if only to admire the colorful roof in person. ¬†Once again was struck by the number of bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles in Barcelona. ¬†Seemed like there were many more of them than cars, and people of all ages could be seen riding them. ¬†Then on to the Palau de la M√ļsica Catalana, which was absolutely worth the price of admission. ¬†The guided tour was in English, but the guide spoke French, Catalan, Castilian, and some Italian as well, so he answered questions in a variety of tongues. ¬†The stained glass was breathtaking. ¬†This was an almost accidental stop — not entirely because you have to buy a ticket in advance — but wasn’t on my original plan, and it turned out to be my favorite sight of all. ¬†Just utterly gorgeous.

Floor detail in apartment of La Pedrera


And then to visit Casa Mil√†, also known as La Pedrera, an apartment building designed by Gaud√≠. ¬†The public areas include the roof, which has a variety of levels and very distinct furnace vents; the attic, which is ribbed almost like the hull of a ship (inverted) and has a museum-like display of Gaud√≠’s work and furniture; and a model apartment of a middle class family from the early part of the 20th century. ¬†I especially admired the hardwood floors in the apartment, which had a variety of patterns, and much of the furniture, which was very Art Nouveau.

Sculpted furnace vents of La Pedrera. A little creepy and mask-like IMO.

Saturday: ¬†Walked up the Paseo del Prado and observed very long line to get into the museum at opening, and more people queuing. ¬†Walked on to the Museo Naval, which was quite interesting. ¬†Although it overlapped a little bit content-wise with the Museu Maritim, it focused more on the state-owned navy and colonies rather than shipping as an industry. ¬† Then to the Puerta de Alcal√° where I hopped the metro to Puerta del Sol. ¬†Did some people watching, didn’t buy a pair of shoes that I’m now regretting (purple crocheted heels with large ribbon at the back of the ankle), walked up Calle Mayor to the Plaza, then bought a slice of the brazo de nata from La Mallorquina and took it back to Retiro Park to enjoy in the sunshine. ¬†Watching the joggers and football players in action made me feel vaguely guilty that all I’d done was walk all day…but not guilty enough to join them ūüėČ ¬†After enjoying the sunshine for a while, I headed to the Museo del Prado for several hours. ¬†The more often I see Goya’s Family portrait of Carlos IV, the more I appreciate it. ¬†And the same for El Greco’s Caballero de la mano en el pecho.

Window display at La Mallorquina on the Puerta del Sol

Mini palmera

Food: ¬†As I mentioned earlier, there is an abundance of cafes, bakeries, and bombonerias in Barcelona. ¬†In addition to Forn Oriol’s lovely croissants, I enjoyed the palmeras at El Mol√≠¬†Vell (photo) and ogled the sweets at Fargas and La Colmena. ¬†In terms of dining, Alfonsina grills a great steak (says the woman who seldom eats red meat) and has a charming atmosphere; the owner/bartender sometimes plays tango music and sings along. ¬†La Rita, which was recommended by Rick Steves book, offers very good food at an extremely reasonable price. ¬†The only truly bad meal I had was at the restaurant at the MNAC: overpriced, located in a freezing venue, the salmon was overpowered by the cheese with which it was stuffed, and the white beans were pureed and served cold, ick! ¬†It also didn’t help that they were piped into shapes and sprinkled with purple sperm sprouts. ¬†The view from the restaurant down into the city was gorgeous and what diners really are paying for there.

Further on the food note: ¬†I love Fanta. ¬†But only in Spain. ¬†And I was less than impressed by the hot chocolate I had at a highly recommended place in Eixample — it was too pudding-y, and tasted very starchy rather than chocolatey.

Transportation: ¬†Once again, the AVE rocks. ¬†I’d tried it several years ago for Madrid to Sevilla and was impressed but was even more impressed on and after the trip from Barcelona to Madrid. ¬†The max speed I noticed was 301 kmph. ¬†Gorgeous scenery for the most part, and a clean, comfortable new train. ¬†Nicer than the Acela, which is the best the US has to offer for train travel.

Guidebook: ¬†Not impressed by Rick Steves’ guide, but I am probably not the target audience. ¬†It’s written more for someone doing a big trip with only a couple days to spend in each city or region, so it only hits highlights and makes relatively few recommendations. ¬†It was helpful when figuring out which bus to take to Montjuic and Parc Guell, but generally I find that I prefer Lonely Planet and Eyewitness Travel books.

Random observation:  I bought a hat for The Chemist, who has begun collecting them, at a hunting supply store.  The somewhat disturbing feature of the store was that although it purported to be a hunting store, most of the guns and manuals I saw were handguns.  For hunting?  Uh, okay.  Hope he likes the hat.


Photographs all by JMC.  


Filed under Out and about, spain, travel

SBD: beach reading

I did manage to read a few other things in addition to Bear, Otter and the Kid before skedaddling home ahead of Hurricane Irene. ¬†Here’s the run-down for SBD:

1.  Persuasion.  Because I can pick this book up and read it at any time at all, from beginning to end or just a passage here and there.  Also re-watched the BBC adaptation (the Hinds-Root edition, thanks).  While there are things I could quibble about in the adaptation, they are far outweighed by the performances and the way so many passages and bits of dialog are worked into the script.

2. ¬†Georgette Heyer’s Regency World by Jennifer Kloester. ¬†This is probably a good reference book or resource for readers who are interested in learning the background of the Regency period but have no foundation. ¬†I’ve read a fair bit within the genre and also of non-fiction about that period in history, so there was not anything new here. ¬†If anyone wants my copy, drop me a line and I’ll send it your way.

3. ¬†The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen. ¬†I’d never read a Rizzoli & Isles mystery before. ¬†This one was pretty good as a procedural, and I enjoyed the Egyptology and archaeology background. ¬†Felt vaguely squicked by Isles’ personal life; it read like another example of a professional woman making bad romantic choices, as if she can’t be balanced and successful in both.

4.  The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn.  A Victorian, Transylvanian-set gothic, meta-fiction of sorts with the narrator being an author who writes gothic romances of her own.  Very atmospheric, but spoiled by an abrupt ending full of telling rather than showing.

I bought two Heyer books when they were on sale with a plan to read them after reading the nonfiction about her Regency world…but that didn’t happen. ¬†Wasn’t in a Regency mood. ¬†Maybe later this month.



Filed under books

Extremely short holiday recap

Originally posted over at LJ.
Cape Cod was awesome and relaxing and I loved all of it except the drive (more on that in a bit). The house is a little bungalow near the Sea Street beach, on a cul de sac.  Less than a hundred yards to the 30 steps down to the beach, which is on the Nantucket Sound.  If I left the sliding doors open, I could hear the crash of the waves on the beach as I fell asleep.  And the beach was never too crowded, even though it was right next to the public lot with beach parking.  The water was still and calm on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, but higher and much windier on Wednesday and Thursday.  There’s an osprey that nests nearby and I got to watch it dive for fish and pluck up a crab.  And the little birds that pick at whatever lives in the sand at the edge of the water, they were hilarious.   Two of them “owned” that little stretch of beach, and they patrolled vigorously, puffing up and running intruders off their territory.
Early morning view looking east toward South Monomoy Island, a long, narrow barrier island hanging off the eastern elbow of the cape that hosts the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge.
On Tuesday, while sitting on the beach and chatting with my neighbors, I felt my chair shift.  It was a little odd, because I hadn’t moved or adjusted the chair, but I chalked it up to shifting sand.  A while later I went to the house for a drink and the phone happened to ring while I was there — there’d been an earthquake in VA/DC/MD and my mom was calling to make sure I was safe (she’d forgotten I was on vacation).  In retrospect, I wonder if it was shifting sand or aftershocks of the earthquake, which were felt all the way to Boston and as far west as Cleveland.  Checked with my neighbor — no major damage, nothing leaking, no gas smells, don’t come home early for this.  So I didn’t.  When I got home, I found a few books on the floor — they weren’t wedged into the shelves tightly enough, I suppose, maybe I should buy more? ūüėČ
I used sunblock assiduously but still managed to get a few odd streaks of sunburn — across the tops of my thighs, and that little tender spot where my arm meets my torso — the outer part of the armpit, I guess.  And oddly, despite remembering to put sunscreen on them, my feet are the brownest part of my body, an odd reverse of the usual sock-tan-lines ūüėõ
Ate a lot of fresh seafood, yum.  I feel like I’m about to confess to something terrible: as much as I love seafood, I don’t really *love* lobster.  I mean, I ate a lobster roll and it was good (although why are the rolls always stale?), but the clams and scallops were more to my taste.  And the fish and chips.  And the clam chowder.  And Cape Cod Creamery’s ice cream?  Delicious, especially their Dennis Double Chocolate, which is a dark chocolate ice cream with small chunks of dark chocolate and cinnamon.  Marion’s Pies in Chatham does great savory and sweet pies, and the orange citrus rolls were out of this world.  Think cinnamon roll in texture and size, but lose the cinnamon and add a lemon and orange flavored sugar glaze with bits of zest mixed in.
Lounging at the sea wall at the top of the stairs down to the beach.
Remembered (at last) to take the 1,000 piece puzzle along, but didn’t get very far since puzzling required too much time indoors and too much concentration.  Did very little reading, at least compared to what I expected to accomplish.  Visited The Book Rack, a used book store in South Yarmouth with a huge collection of historical romance books.  Picked up several Harlequin Romances from the 60s that I plan on reading and posting about over at WordPress.  I’ll post a book report over there in the next day or so, too.
Ended up coming back a day early because I didn’t want to be driving down the east coast as Irene was hitting MD, NJ, NY.  Which has turned out to be a good thing.  Traffic was pretty easy yesterday (except through NYC), since no one had evacuated yet.  C ended up not coming, which was not a huge surprise, given the weather and other things.

As relaxing as the trip was, I’m not sure I’ll go back any time soon for a couple of reasons.  First, the drive.  It was 8.5 – 9 hours with no major delays or backups, and frankly the Outer Banks is a closer and easier drive (plus fewer tolls, which I think totalled about $45, must check my EZPass).  The Cross Bronx Expressway is miserable — yesterday we crept along going 10mph or less from the entrance to the GW Bridge.  No lane closures, no road work, just volume and drivers who couldn’t figure out which lane they needed to be in.  And it was just as bad on Saturday, plus the bipolar driving through Connecticut.  I’ve mapped out other routes, but they all add 2 or more hours to the trip, which is already long to begin with.  Second, although the bungalow’s location was excellent, it needs some cosmetic work — nothing that couldn’t be fixed with elbow grease and $1,000 or less, but there are a lot of other rentals out there in the same price range that are better.  Still, the rental agency was very good and Essential Rentals (bike, linens, grocery delivery) was excellent.

Not sure what’s up with the wonky formatting — WordPress is ignoring my paragraph breaks and returns. Had the same problem with LJ.


Filed under travel

Hotel charges

I’m looking at hotels for a trip that’s several months away. There’s a luxury hotel (the high end offering of a chain) that lists a bunch of amenities like wireless internet, fitness center, whirlpool, hot spa, etc., as part of the basic package for an overnight stay. But then when you look at their rates, as you’ve selected the type of room you need, you see that there is a $27 charge PER DAY for those amenities…even if you don’t use them.

Okay. Um, no.

The budget hotel owned by the same chain offers wireless interest, a fitness center (not as well-equipped, I’m sure), and whirlpool, but does not add surcharge.

Maybe people who are typical customers of luxury hotels don’t notice “little” surcharges like that? It would work out to just under $200 for the trip I’m planning, so it’s definitely noticeable to me.

Unrelated: chocolate covered marzipan hearts are my favorite.

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Expanded Adventures in the Little Red Bus

Yeah, more photos. After the cut. Continue reading


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A few pics from the family holiday: Ireland

Hiding behind a cut


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London: redux

It’s just occurred to me that my trip to London was four weeks ago but I haven’t managed to post any photos or a travel narrative.  Must get organized, or someday I’ll just be saying, I know I did stuff on that trip but can’t recall exactly what…

The weather was rather wet, unsurprisingly, but at least there was very little snow.  Which was a plus, since I left home during a lull in historic snow falls for the area, and I understand that there was a lot of snow in southern England this year.  Without going to look at my travel journal, here are the things that stand out in my memory.

Had planned on visiting Oxford but not the first day.  Thank you, National Rail employee who refused to read the small print on my London Plus BritRail Pass, insisting that the train trip from the airport activated the pass for the day, rather than counting separately.  (No, it didn’t, according to the fine print on the back of the pass.)  Anyway, the train ride to Oxford was unintentionally entertaining, as I was seated directly behind a young woman of very decided opinions who shared them with her companions for the entire trip and eventually sucked them into her jaunt to Blenheim Palace.  I was tempted by the thought of the gardens and grounds, but wasn’t sure my boots (sturdy but not Wellies) would be up to that much rain.  Instead, I wandered around Oxford, enjoying the glimpses into the different colleges and the busy streets.  Climbed Carfax Tower just off the high street — up was fine, but coming down made me nervous.  At Market Square, I watched cakes be decorated and fondant-ed; admired leatherwork; chatted with a clerk in the butcher shop; and window shopped at a lovely jewelry shop.  Had lunch in the cafe in the church of St. Mary the Virgin, can’t remember the name, but the food was organic, served homestyle, and quite delicious.  Enjoyed the tour of the Bodleian Library, especially of Duke Humphrey’s library and what I believe was the original lecture room of the divinity school, which can be seen in the Harry Potter movies as the library and infirmary, respectively.  (Photo is of Christ Church College, taken from War Memorial Garden.)

Woke up the next day and saw that the sun was out!  Last minute change of plans: took the tube to Wimbledon.  Well, tube and bus.  The tour and museum were a little spendy in comparison to other museums and entertainments, but I would recommend it to anyone who is a tennis fan.  We had a chance to sit in Court #1 and Center Court, which absolutely rocked my socks (also, all the seats in Center Court were just replaced, and each has its own individual cover, unlike any other stadium I’ve been in).  (I am TOTALLY going to the Championships at Wimbledon someday, even if I have to sell my soul  take out a second mortgage on my house to do so.)  Anyway, learned all kinds of odd and random things interesting probably only to tennis enthusiasts, such as:  the two largest courts are regrassed every September (rye grass); it takes 9 months to build a new stadium but a year for the earth to settle, which is why building is going on now for a new court to be used in the 2012 Olympics; the two largest courts are open enough that local foxes sneaking in to use the grass is a problem…hence electric fences.  There is a temporary exhibit on Fred Perry in the museum that was interesting, and I loved the display on women’s tennis kits, especially the video that showed the 10 kilograms of clothing that women used to wear!

Seemed  a shame to go to a museum or anything that would leave me indoors on such a nice day, so I went to Kensington Gardens and people watched.  Lots of material, especially around the Round Pond and Prince Albert Memorial.  (And, hey, Depeche Mode was playing Royal Albert Hall later that week!)

Despite a rainy and dreary day, Hampton Court Palace was a nice day trip.  The kitchens of Henry VIII were fascinating, especially the bits of the tour when experimental food historians talk about trying to recreate recipes, utensils, and cooking methods.  Food as status — what you are served, how you are served, when/where you are served — isn’t something I’d ever thought about before.  Stood next to a huge fireplace for a few minutes to warm up, and was given the chance to turn a spit.  Even empty, it took muscle, and I couldn’t imagine trying to turn it when half a cow was on the spit.  In one of the galleries upstairs, I looked out over the Fountain Court and noticed the carvings over the arches — are they gods and goddesses?  The nearest one was horned, which made me think Pan or Bacchus.  Checked with one of the museum guards/docents, but she wasn’t certain — no one had ever asked her about them.   Lovely galleries of paintings – especially Kneller’s Hampton Court Beauties and Lely’s Windsor Beauties.  The garden probably shows better in fair weather, but I still enjoyed the Maze.

The British Library…I took a tour of the library and was the only person on tour.  Marta, the guide, was very helpful and informative.  I got to see the mechanical system used to ship books from the underground stacks (8 stories!) to the different reading rooms, and to admire the very modern reading rooms.  The BL receives 4,200 items per week.  And cannot cull the collection, unlike the average lending library, since its job is to archive materials.  Many materials are stored offsite in Yorkshire, and if requested, will be available for viewing in London within 48 hours.  Didn’t realize that they were part of the British Museum until recently.  The building is lovely and rather naval, which I mentioned.  Marta smiled and told me that the architect was a retired naval fellow, and the resemblance was intentional, from the exterior cruise ship-like profile to the round, porthole-like windows on all doors.  The collection of George III is front and center, as required by the bequest, light and temperature controlled.  More than 35,000 volumes collected by a magpie king who didn’t actually read many of the books, but had an agent on the continent whose job was to acquire them for the king.  (Hmm, I can only imagine that my TBR pile would be of equivalent size if I had an unlimited budget and an agent whose sole job was to acquire books that I might be interested in for my collection.)  The temporary exhibit was of editions of the Rubiyat by Omar Khayyam, and the permanent exhibit includes all kinds of things, ranging from the oldest known Beowulf manuscript and one of the original duplicates of the Magna Carta to handwritten Beatles lyrics.  Was blown away by the Turning the Page (TM) technology and ability to view virtually some incredibly delicate and valuable books, manuscripts and documents.  The new library was supposed to have three phases of building, with this first building followed by more, but the funding has been cut for the other phases, so this is it.  Marta said that if they’d known, likely a lot of the open space in this building would have been used differently, but that would be a shame — it is a gorgeous building, very open and welcoming.  (My brain was quite full after leaving the library.)

On the next sunny day, I had a dilemma: day trip to Canterbury or Dover Priory.  Fortunately for me, the same train went to both destinations, so I had a while to make up my mind.  Ended up picking Canterbury, which was a happy choice.  After exploring the pedestrian-only area and window shopping, I went to the Cathedral.  Christchurch Gate is a little creepy, frankly, with the blue figure hovering over the gate.  Is it copper and the blue is corrosion, or is the color intentional?  Anyway, the cathedral is majestic, even partially laddered with scaffolding and netting.  While wandering inside, I paused to take note of an interesting memorial (the fellow seemed to have led an interesting life, governor & commander of Hong Kong, ambassador to China) and was asked if he was an ancestor?  No, just someone to look up.  But the lady (a guide in training) kept me company for the rest of my visit, and chatted with me about the cathedral cats; the daily Great War memorial — recently relocated due to falling masonry from the Great South Wall; the Red Dean of her youth; the pea fowl that the new, young dean kept; the speculation that Thomas Becket’s body had been moved by the monks before Henry VIII sacked the shrine in 1538; and how, if I’d come a little earlier, I would’ve seen the gorgeous altar cloths and flowers that usually decorated the cathedral but which had been put away for Lent.  Walked to the Roman Museum, and had a hurried visit, then back to the cathedral for Evensong (beautiful).  Far and away, the thing that most impressed me was the fan ceiling of the Bell Harry tower.  Gorgeous.  None of my photos came out well, so I’ll just link to a pic here.

Let’s see, what other stuff?  Walking tour of Legal & Illegal London, which included the four remaining original Inns of Court.  Aside: I didn’t realize that the bells John Donne referred to in Meditations XVII arose from the bell tolling the death of benchers.  I thought it was much more generic.  The insight into the legal history of England was entertaining and informative, and drove home how very different our legal cultures and communities are, despite the fact that much of American common law is based on English common law.  

Saw "The Misanthrope", which I enjoyed but is not my favorite work by Moliere; I’m supposed to scorn Alceste for idealism and naivete and his unwillingness to engage in hypocrisy even when it would be to his advantage, but he’s my favorite character and I am frustrated that he’s essentially dismissed as a Cassandra.  In this interpretation of the play, Damien Lewis played Alceste, and Keira Knightly played Jennifer (Americanized and modernized Celimene).  Both were very good, although I found Knightly’s American accent to be not quite right — I’m not sure I can explain it, other than to say it was a little too nasal and the consonants too hard…plus, she lost the accent almost entirely whenever she had to pronounce a word ending in -ing, like "anything".  

The 100 artifacts exhibit at the British Museum is worth seeing, as is the temporary exhibit of medieval York artifacts.  The Sherlock Holmes Museum?  Eh, if you are a huge, huge fan, it’s probably worth your time.  I went primarily to take photos for the Holmes fan in my family, so I enjoyed it, but probably wouldn’t have gone otherwise.  Plus, I was a bit out of sorts since it was snowing and the wind turned my umbrella inside out, and a French brat kept asking me to move despite the fact that there was no place to move to.  [I’d’ve happily moved just to get away from him if there had been any room to spare.]

While standing in front of the National Gallery, a squad of red-coated soldiers on horseback came trotting up the street.  Not sure where they came from or where they were going (are the Horse Guards nearby?), but it was certainly a sight to see.  

Hmm, my unthreatening-factor remains in effect: I was asked for directions no less than four times.  And was able to help twice!  

Took a lot of pics that I’ll eventually label and upload to FaceBook.  I guess.  Here’s one last photo.  I loved the huge buttresses with the tiny, tender buds of spring flowers.


ETA: edited a bit for typos


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What I did on my Thanksgiving vacation

London was awesome. I would totally go back. I will go back, actually, because there is so much that I didn’t have time to do, like visit Wimbledon, and the Portobello Road Market, and walking down Bond and Oxford Streets. And seeing the Magna Carta, the British Library and the Bodleian Library.

But that’s for another trip. Let’s focus on this trip, shall we? Photos will be included, most or even all taken on my phone, despite the fact that I took a real camera with me. Please forgive the quality, as they may be blurry or grainy.

First of all, the hotel. It was in South Kensington, just up from the Gloucester Road tube station. Clean and comfortable, it was a bargain. The only real knock was that the walls were paper thin…and my neighbors were a voluble Italian family who never closed a door without slamming it. Would I stay there again? Maybe, because the price and convenience of the location would be hard to beat.

Second, the Oyster Card. Oh, Oyster Card, how I love you. Purchased a week’s fare for unlimited bus and tube trips in the main tourist zones of town, and it too was a bargain.

Arriving at about dawn, took the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. Was fascinated by the houses and architecture; no matter what the age, the houses and buildings looking distinctly English to me. Sheep in the fields. Passed a couple of neighborhoods where the houses had little plots of land separate from their homes and lots, each with a little garden and shed or greenhouse of some sort. Tube to the hotel, where I dropped my bags. After having cocoa and a muffin, spent the day wandering up Cromwell Road toward Knightsbridge, visiting the Natural History Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum. Cool things in each: the Cocoon, which is such a huge contrast, architecturally speaking, with the exterior of the NHM; the interactive expedition planning for plant sample collection within the Cocoon; the Darwin Centre; the ice skating rink outside; the Islamic and Arabic gallery at V&A; the book and printing press display and video at V&A; etc. After they closed and the sun set, I walked up Cromwell Road to where it ran into Brompton and window-shopped. Emporio Armani has a cafe, and serves breakfast, lunch and tea. (Do Armani-wearers eat? Really?) Ogled a gorgeous, copper-burnished range at a high end kitchen supply place, then was appalled by the price (20,000 pounds! on sale at more than half off!). Finished up at Harrod’s, where I bought souvenirs for the office (tea, toy cars, etc.) and had a ridiculously expensive and incredibly tasty sundae by the name of Pear Helene. Chatted with two ladies in town from Essex who were treating themselves to the trip as a gift for Christmas. [I now understand the phrase "Essex Girl", which I’ve heard used derogatorily. Seems pretty judgy to me, but whatever…] Anyhow, by then it was almost 8pm and I’d been awake for ~30 hours, so I staggered back to the hotel and fell asleep immediately.

Thursday. Forgot it was Thanksgiving. No turkey, cranberries or pumpkin pie. Instead, there was Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square, Big Ben, Jubilee Walk, the Tate Britain, King’s Cross, the National Portrait Gallery, Leicester Square and Seven Dials. I forgot to tell The Biochemist, but Jeremy Irons narrates the audio guide to the Abbey. Perhaps not so oddly, Westminster Abbey did not feel particularly holy to me; it felt historical and museum-like, but not very religious despite periodic moments of silence and reflection, perhaps because of the crowds of people. Saw the tombs of Elizabeth and Mary, the coronation chair, Poet’s Corner, and the memorial for Darwin. From there, walked around Parliament Square, then over Westminster Bridge to the Eye. Four hour wait, no, thanks. So I walked down the Jubilee Walk to Lambeth Bridge, then to the Tate Britain. The Turner Prize nominees were showing, but I didn’t look. Instead, I concentrated on slightly older work, especially the Lawrence and Singer Sargent displays.

Went to King’s Cross because The Biochemist mentioned Platform 9 3/4, and discovered the lowbrow culinary pleasure of the sausage roll from a vendor there.

Friday. I went to Bath. Loved it and would absolutely go back to see the other stuff I missed. First stop was the Abbey, because I hit it first on the walk up the hill from the train station to the Royal Crescent. The difference between the Bath Abbey and Westminster could not be more striking. Although people worship at Westminster, Bath is clearly a community or neighborhood church. Smaller (but by no means small), its interior architecture is more airy. It was being decorated for Christmas, and stalls were set up outside for the Christmas bazaar. The church vault or catacombs, dating back to Roman times, were open, too. Walked over Pulteney Bridge, then up Gay Street to the Jane Austen Centre and up to the Circle and the Royal Crescent. Gorgeous. Walking back down, I spent the afternoon in the Roman Baths, which are a marvel of architecture and engineering, even today. Sadly, the Pump Room was closing early for a private function, so I could not have tea there. Instead, I had a bun at Sally Lunn’s, and checked out the kitchen museum in the basement. Followed by window shopping up the high street — the price of real estate is insane! and there’s a Lush boutique (smelled great), plus bookshops and more. Had an excellent dinner at The Hole in the Wall, then took a late train back to London.

Saturday. The Circle Line and District Line were closed for the weekend for engineering works, which was extremely inconvenient. So whines the tourist. Anyway, I planned on doing several things, but ended up spending the entire day at the British Museum. And I didn’t even see all of it! I did a quick walk through of the Egyptian display and Parthenon display downstairs, then went upstairs to stay. The Staffordshire Hoard! Revolution Paper. And all the other stuff. Plus, there’s an exhibit on Moctezuma (paid and ticketed, unlike the rest of the museum, but worth it) that’s worth seeing. Stopped for tea at the court cafe, which was excellent. [Have I mentioned that clotted cream is my new favorite thing?] Then back to more displays. My brain was full by the end of the day. Stopped for a little bit of window shopping and souvenir shopping on the way back to the hotel.

Sunday. Once again, planned to do a bunch of stuff but ended up spending the entire day at the Tower. Which makes sense since it is huge and also because it has more than a thousand years of history to learn about. Particularly enjoyed Beauchamp Tower, and the graffiti done by prisoners on the stone walls. Is it sacreligious to say I felt kind of ~meh~ about the jewels? They were pretty and shiny, and I liked learning about the mining and cutting of Cullinan I and II, but otherwise, the settings are rather gaudy, aren’t they? Stopped at Piccadilly Circus on the way back to the hotel, walking by a huge Waterstones and Hatchard’s, stopping at Fortnum & Mason for (overpriced) tea and gifts.

Monday. Mailed post cards. Went out for tea in the morning, then checked out and headed home.

Theater posters for Les Mis, Phantom, and the coming holidays cracked me up, which I don’t think was the intent. But the pathetic image of Cosette and the mask under the holiday banner and wishes just didn’t seem that tragic. Also, Damien Lewis is going to be starring in The Misanthrope starting next week, and I so want to see that show despite the fact that Keira Knightley is in it, too — her wooden acting is painful to watch IMO.

Was entertained by the temporary ice skating rinks set up outside the Tower and the Natural History Museum. It wasn’t particularly cold while I was there, but they were put to good use. The weather was good, and rain held off until Sunday, when it poured. Or pissed down, in the vernacular :p

My approachability (or non-threateningness) factor remains in effect: I was asked for directions three times. And twice I could answer helpfully!

There’s more, but that’s what I remember off the top of my head and without consulting my trip diary.


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Today’s earworm, work and a beach photo for Kate

Today’s earworm:  alternating songs from Cobra Starship’s Hot Mess album.  The title track and The Scene Is Dead – Long Live the Scene.  In particular the chorus and the lyric, I can love you like a sailor, I can make you dance all night.  As I mentioned to The Biochemist, whenever I hear this song, I imagine all of the Cobras in sailor suits with bellbottoms and pinafore tops.  The image needs to Go Away.

It may not (hah! isn’t, I’m sure) obvious from my blog, but one of my primary characteristics is curiosity.  Four words that describe me best are I want to know.  Which is politely called curiosity but could also be incurable nosiness.  My mom tells stories about me being frustrated at school as a child because I wanted to know more than I was being told/taught. And also of being accidentally elbowed because I hovered too close as she worked at the counter in the kitchen.  I needed to see what was going on!  One of the reasons I’m good at my job is that when I see anomalies, I want to know why they are, to figure them out and fix them if possible.  Which means that a lot of people ask me to fix things for them that aren’t really within the scope of my job.  I don’t mind usually.  But I’ve reached the point that 1) I don’t have time for this because of my own workload, and 2) I’ve felt like one colleague (who everyone agrees — including his supervisor — is really not up to his job, intellectually speaking) is taking advantage, shuffling "problems" to me that have been assigned to him for resolution, then taking credit for my solutions.  Today I said no, which is pretty hard for me in the work context.  No, I’m not taking those back and fixing the problem.  They were correct when I gave them to you, and all of the documentation attached verifies that; anomalies in the electronic files that appeared after I turned them over to you, perhaps because of a bug in the database, are a computer/tech problem.  To resolve that, you need to work with IT and solve the problem yourself.  I felt lazy, like one of those people who refuses to perform any task not specifically listed in their job description (we have many of those at the office), but also justified.   

And for Kate, a beach photo:

 This was taken just after sunrise on one of the windier days last week.  So much wind that despite the sun, the beach was empty that day.  The boardwalk and neighborhood businesses did brisk business though, since people couldn’t really lounge comfortably in the 20mph wind.

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